Building Communities Kim Lachance Shandrow  | October 23, 2017

Target and Techstars Team Up to Disrupt Retail With Help From Tech Startups

Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large companies and smaller businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.

Target and Techstars are joining forces to improve the retail experience through innovative technologies with a big leg up from some of today’s most promising and innovative startup entrepreneurs.

The initiative, simply called Target + Techstars, is a 13-week, mentorship-driven immersive startup accelerator. Participating tech startups, selected for the ideas and innovations they bring to the fore to enhance the retail experience, work directly with Techstars mentors at Target’s headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, Minn.

As part of the program’s hands-on mentorship offering, participating startup founders and their teammates receive key feedback on their products and services, as well as advice aimed at fostering their nascent companies’ growth and development. The program’s second startup class kicked off last July and wrapped earlier this month.

As for some of the benefits to Target, which launched as a single store back in 1902, the retail giant gets a direct view into the disruptive startup innovation process — and early dibs on some of the participating startups’ fresh, retail-improving technologies.

“Target’s long history of creativity and invention is rooted in our ability to spot breakthrough ideas that can make Target better for guests,” said Pam Tomczik, Target’s vice president of corporate development. “The goal of the Target + Techstars retail accelerator is to uncover, validate and scale those ideas by helping startups bring new products and experience to retail.”

Bridging the Gap
Ryan Broshar, managing director of Techstars Retail, said he and his Techstar colleagues act as bridges between Target and participating startups. The overarching aim, on top of disrupting the retail industry through next-wave technologies, is to help both entities break down some of the challenges that often exist between small upstarts and large legacy corporations.

“The main takeaway with our program is the sense of scale,” Broshar said. “The difference in scale between a startup and a Fortune 500 retailer like Target is there’s a huge gap there. It’s hard for startups to fathom the scale of Target, and it’s hard for Target to learn how to work with a team of four from a startup. We aim to bridge that gap and set up some meaningful relationships.”

Success Through Partnership
The inaugural Target + Techstars accelerator class has brought to life several innovative retail solutions, now in pilot-mode at select Target locations. For example, Branch Messenger, an early-stage Minneapolis, Minn.-based mobile tech firm, is piloting its self-service hourly employee enterprise staffing and scheduling solution in 130 Target stores. The tool is also being used in select Target call and distribution centers.

“I couldn’t imagine a better place for us to work for three months than coming into Target every day,” Branch Messenger founder and CEO Atif Siddiqi said of his startup’s involvement in the accelerator. “Having access to Target mentorship right next door, as an entrepreneur, you really can’t think of a better position to be in, really, than learning from one of the best retailers in the world.”

Inspectorio, a growing, Hong Kong-headquartered supply chain management startup, now provides an online platform for product manufacturer quality assurance at several Target locations. Target went all-in on Inspectorio, investing in the upstart to the tune of $3.7 million during a recent seed-funding round. Revoler, a Denver, Colo.-based wearables manufacturer, leveraged lessons learned while enrolled in the accelerator into the launch of its Revolar Instinct personal safety “panic button” device, now available on and in some 200 Target stores.

The accelerator’s second class resulted in a fresh batch of pilot projects between Target and five participating startups. One of the pilot initiatives is headed up by St. Paul, Minn.-based Local Crate. The locally-sourced kit delivery service recently started selling its sustainable meal-kits at 10 Target stores.

#BizUnited — A Growing Trend
The Target + Techstars program is one of a broadening crop of large company-driven startup accelerators to pop up across the country. Norwich, New York-based yogurt maker Chobani recently launched a food startup incubator with the goal of “challenging the food industry, improving broken systems and making a difference.” Amazon recently unveiled its Alexa Accelerator, also a Techstars partnership-powered initiative, with an eye on capturing bleeding-edge voice-driven tech innovations.

This new wave of big-and-small-enterprise-partnership-driven accelerators signals that businesses of all sizes, regardless of their size, are increasingly leaning on each other for support and innovation. And, in the bigger picture, it’s the interdependent relationships between them that help move our economy forward.

Learn more about the #BizUnited campaign and share your story here.